Start Running by Setting These 3 Expectations

I have a theory that shame keeps a lot of people from running. Tell me honestly (or at least tell yourself) if you can relate to the following story.

Jennifer (Let’s call her Jennifer. That’s a nice generic name if you’re an Xennial.) looks in the mirror and says to herself, “Ugh. My thighs are so fat. I hate my stomach. I need to lose weight.” Then, later that day, Jennifer just happens to read my blog (or, more likely, another more reputable blog or, more likely still, one with a picture of a sweaty lady in spanx and a sports bra) and decides to go for a run. She digs up some old workout clothes that don’t fit anymore. Actually, they do fit. They just hug her body in ways that make Jennifer feel uncomfortable.

“What am I doing? She asks herself. “I look ridiculous.” But she does it anyway.

After 1 minute she can’t breathe. Her lungs burn. Her legs feel like led stacked on top cinder block feet. She can feel her butt, her belly and her breasts bouncing along for the ride. It hurts. So she stops and walks. She tries two more times. She sweats more than seems reasonable for a few minutes of running and her face turns beet red. Jennifer hurries home before anyone sees her and her failed attempt at running, before anyone notices she doesn’t belong.

“I am DEFINITELY NOT a runner,” she says to herself. “FUUUUUCK THAT.”

But here’s the thing. Nothing actually went wrong. If you don’t run, if you’ve never run, or if it’s been a long time since you ran that’s exactly what to expect the first, well, many times out. Which is why the best thing you can do for yourself when you first start running is to adjust your expectations. And adjust them in these 3 specific ways.

1. Expect to walk (more than you run).

This is very near and dear to my heart right now. My long term goal is to run (or, more accurately, complete) an ultra-marathon so I’m incorporating a lot more elevation gain in my training. Twice a week 1/3 to 2/3 of my “run” is actually a hike. I’m having to adjust my expectations just like I would if I were new to running.

A friend of mine once said she doesn’t run, but occasionally she’ll go for a walk and spontaneously run a few feet here and there. YES!!! This is a perfect way to start running. Why do we always make running out to be this hyper intense activity requiring a superhuman and inexhaustible supply of determination? Why not make it a fun, low pressure activity instead?

2. Expect to go slow.

Right here and now make a decision to let go of any numbers you have floating around in your head that define things like “fast” vs. “slow” and “running” vs. “jogging” vs. “not”. Just let them go. Run slow enough that you could easily hold a conversation, maybe even sing along for a line if your favorite song popped through your earbuds. If you’re huffing and puffing slow down. Yes, even more. If you really can’t slow down anymore (even though: yes, you can) take a walk break. Walk until you feel like you could run again without much discomfort.

3. Expect it to get easier over time, but expect it to take awhile.

You’ll be surprised to find that you – yes, even you – CAN actually run. You’ll be surprised how quickly you improve. And, at the same time, you’ll find it takes forever. In part because it’s almost impossible to let go of whatever vision we have stuck in our head defining what a runner is. In part because we constantly raise the bar. Running 1 mile straight seems an impossible feat until it’s easy and a 5K feels out of reach. Before we know it running a half marathon isn’t even enough if we run slower than a specific pace and on and on we go. And finally, it feels like it takes a long time because it just takes a long time. The good news is it can be fun along the way.

Maybe you’re thinking you’d like a more concrete plan to begin running. If that’s the case, try this. Work up to three 20 minute walks a week. Walking is as close as it gets to running, without actually running, and is the best place to start. When that feels easy, replace one of your walks with the following:

  • 5 minute walk to warm-up
  • 10 minute run/walk – Stop and start based on feel, as described in #1 and #2 above. I could recommend run and walk durations, but it’s very personal and learning how to run by feel is an incredibly valuable skill worth learning.
  • 5 minute walk to cool down

Most importantly, when you’re done, congratulate yourself on a run well done, for having the courage to try something new and challenging. That is the space – the messy space outside of our comfort zone – from which we grow.

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